Tag Archives: love

Taking Care of the O’Learys

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Mental illness doesn’t run in the family so much as it line dances there.

I find “Taking Care of the O’Learys,” achingly beautiful, in the way that audiences are taught to look at life while watching Our Town, except with moldy potato water buckets and inebriated bondage. Barb could leave—other women might, like the wife in “The Yardman,” —but she has a moment in which she’s wholly open to love, and in letting it in, she understands that it’s paired inextricably with the general weirdness she’s been resisting, and that it’s not just doable, it’s actually wonderful. The madness isn’t anywhere near the worst thing that could happen. Losing your family is the worst possible thing. She wouldn’t really leave anyway. She’s the kind of person who keeps washing the floor even though she knows she’s done her utmost and it needs to be replaced. But she did need to be reminded of how much they loved her. It’s a happy ending with madness.

To heighten the implied creepiness and Barb’s sense of terror of the first part of the story, I decided to flip black and white, and only use a very few colors. Probably the colored parts will look less awesome in print form but they looks amazing online: blue tarp, green mold, red, orange, and yellow fire. Quite pleased with this one.

Sleeping Sickness

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Personally, I find that you can be mean no matter how long you live.

This is a rough story! It’s got a lot of the elements you see later in “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters,” with the mom who does her best for her daughter, but also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about when her best isn’t very good. It’s got the weird sexual interaction between the teenage daughter and the mom’s boyfriend, things that are not OK, but for a moment Reg feels something that’s not not OK anyway. If you do the math on this one, Reg is 12, and her mom had her at 16, so Mom is 28, which is how old I was when I first met Bonnie Jo Campbell in grad school, at which time I still considered myself too young to procreate.

The weird sex stuff is toned down here; it could have been an entire comic on its own if I wanted to go in that direction, but ultimately I decided the more important part of Reg’s relationship with John Blain was her understanding of how he fit into her mother’s world, and how she was willing to make that sacrifice for her mother.

I also had to cut out the cow and her calf for lack of space. A lot of stuff didn’t fit in these panels.

Reg blames herself for John Blain’s death, although it seems obvious to me that this guy was going to drink himself to death sooner or later, and she probably would have found him frozen to death even if she had gotten up earlier. And then we have the precursor to “Winter Life,” where the protagonist is able to look past all the hurt and confusion and bad behavior because they can look forward to spring, and all the new things that will grow when the sun comes back. Reg knows that John Blain didn’t mean to die; it’s just one of those things that happens when you’re an itinerant alcoholic in a harsh world. Reg doesn’t know about love, but she does value constancy, and in that, John Blain didn’t let her down.

Shotgun Wedding

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Well, if this isn’t the most gendered thing I’ve ever drawn…

“Shotgun Wedding” is a pure example of flash fiction, not just due to its length, but to its form. It’s the story of a single moment of revelation, which, in my view, is the point of a flash. It reduces a story down to the climax, takes a massive web of understanding and compresses it into a tiny dot: this moment, in which one person has to let go of another.

The love between the sisters, and particularly of the big sister, who is the first person narrator, for her more vulnerable sibling, is really beautiful. The little sister is both the embodiment of feminine perfection but also the odd girl out in the family, too magical and delicate to exist in the world where everyone else lives. She’s balanced by the strength of her sister’s determination, and the sense of responsibility the narrator has always felt to protect her like a precious treasure. In the space of the story, the dynamic has just ended. The little sister has her husband as a counterweight now, but the big sister is going to be reeling backward, as you do when you’re pulling hard at something that suddenly gives way.

But time, to my way of thinking, is infinite in both directions. The moment in which the big sister was a teenager standing at the window with a shotgun protecting her family will always exist, as will this present moment of release.

There’s a fun balance in the pinky-pinkiness of the little sister’s world and the metallic shotguns of the big sister’s. It was challenging but entertaining to draw. Took me forever to get the little sister looking over her shoulder right.

Eating Aunt Victoria

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Oh, naugahyde. I mean, who doesn’t love sticking to their living room furniture?

This is the exact sort of short fiction I live for. It’s bizarre and serious, funny and terrible. Although she’s 18 and the piece is written in 3rd person, Bess is essentially an unreliable child narrator, since we experience the action through her biased perspective, which shifts suddenly as she realizes that Aunt Victoria is a human being with powerful emotions, some of which involve her, and that she and her brother are 2 separate people. She’s not joined at the hip to him, or to the house where they grew up. The text says “Hal was releasing her into the universe,” but really, she’s releasing herself. She just craves Hal’s confirmation that she exists as autonomous entity, just as Hal needs Bess to accept him as a gay man.

In this story, Bess has 3 connections to her dead mother: her living brother, her stepmom, and her house, and it’s no coincidence that the house is crumbling around them. Hal is drifting away (car, school, boyfriend) and Victoria is clearly never moving on (hence, she’s literally stuck inside the porch), so Bess has to choose to move on or remain stuck.

There’s a meanness to the kids’ understanding of Aunt Victoria, where fat-shaming stands in for their own confusion and anger about their mother’s lesbianism, her death, and their lives since they lost her. I think it’s easy enough to read the text in such a way that you understand food is a substitute for love in this family. Bess and Hal haven’t had enough since their mom died, despite Aunt Victoria attempting to provide for them. (But they don’t want her one-step-removed restaurant leftover love; Hal adopts a sour grapes attitude and tells himself gas station junk is all he needs, but Bess misses meals and wishes someone would offer one to her, something that’s just for her.) Aunt Victoria, despite her locked cabinets of treats, can never find satisfaction: her lover is gone and she didn’t know how to inspire affection in the children (so it doesn’t matter how much food she hoards; she’ll never satisfy the need for what she’s lost). Undoubtedly, she’s still depressed, possibly more broken than the kids over her partner’s passing. Presumably, the story’s end is a turning point in this family, and, in lovingly taking care of Aunt Victoria before moving on to their own timelines, they can heal all the wounds left by their mother’s death.

As always, I had to cut some good parts of the story to fit the comic in 6 boxes. In this case, that meant excising the arc about Bess’s own sexuality. She fears being a lesbian, she fears being a virgin, she fears being alone. Her desperation to keep up with her older brother sexually leads her to one of literature’s greatest cringe-worthy seduction fails. She’s literally so unprepared to enter this phase of life that her come-on scares off an 18-year-old guy who’s already agreed to sex. This is where having a mother to advise her about relationships (and to put her brother’s sexuality in perspective) would have come in handy. Presumably, she’s going to learn a lot in the Navy. Presumably, they’ll set her straight (so to speak) and offer her everything she needs.

 

Big Poly Love

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It gets the message across, I think.

I said I was going to do this and I did it. Poly Pride, Poly Love is available on many fine products in my RedBubble shop. So now I have 3 non-heteronormative designs in my shop, I have to create a new portfolio to house my message. I had way more to say about this design and accidental representation spotting but it took me way longer to draw than estimated and now it’s late and I’m tired.

Anyway: T-shirt! And I actually have a comic in the works.

Hold on Loosely, but Don’t Let Go

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Sorry about that shady looking butterfly. I was on a schedule.

Thinking about this lately. There are people who make a deep dent in your heart while they occupy it, and you can’t buff it out when they go. I guess I’m fortunate to only have a few people like that; with one or two exceptions, I’m still friends with everyone I’ve ever dated or hooked up with, although sometimes it takes a while to get past the hurt and rekindle a friendship. I don’t burn bridges. I don’t hold grudges (too much).

I still have those size 4 jeans. Damn, my ass looked good in them, for the 15 minutes of my adult life I wore a size 4. Unless American really does descend into anarchy and there’s no food and I end up in a camp for dissidents, I do not anticipate ever stuffing myself into them again, but some small part of me still holds out hope. The pot did get tossed, although not without a lot of anxiety. Like, I took a photograph of it, and I had to squelch the urge to go rescue it for the next couple hours. Fortunately, we left town so I didn’t have an opportunity to grab a broken pot (which was old when I acquired it second-hand in 1992). A lot of memories in that pot.

So, if that’s how I feel about a busted, perma-scorched, avocado-green pot with 2 broken handles and all the teflon scratched off, you can imagine my difficulty releasing people from my life. I love hard and deep. I’m like the puzzle box from the Hellraiser movies. It takes a while for me to let people in, but I never voluntarily let them out again.

Storm Warning

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Do you think there’s enough blood in panel 2? I’m not sure there’s enough blood in panel 2.

This is the heartwarming tale of how toxic masculinity is purified in the crucible of life-threatening injury, and, combined with fear in the alembic of loneliness, transmuted into the burgeoning crystals of the ability to express actual love. What’s hilarious here is that Doug, upon realizing that he loves Julie, immediately tries to convince himself that he doesn’t really care for her, because, I guess, it’s not manly to have feelings? And then, as it happens, once he’s wholly dependent on her, he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he even likes or respects her. Only when he’s got less than nothing does he finally admits to himself that Julie is kind of a peach if for no other reason than she puts up with his ridiculousness.

I wonder how the story would have gone if Julie had been the one injured and Doug had to choose between nursing her through her convalescence or running away.

This comic was a lot of fun to draw. It took 10 days because my power cable broke and then I got the flu, and some of the images were pretty challenging, but I love the results. Probably the wounds would be worse in panel 2, but then it would have just been a cloud of blood, and that’s less interesting to look at. In panel 6, I realize that Julie is likely supposed to be wearing a jean jacket with no shirt underneath, but let’s say that she went home and changed before she came back. Probably, she left the bar still mad at Doug, then went home, then realized that she left a basically paralyzed guy alone in a lake house during the storm of the century and started to feel bad as she sobered up and then went back to babysit his crabby self. That’s love.

This is one of the happiest stories in the book, I feel.

I was telling my friend the coyote about how I had to draw a picture of a girl coming into a dark house during a power outage and he said, “That sounds hard,” and I said, “Not as hard as getting up early and wearing a tie 5 days a week for 30 years,” and I meant it. Hallelujah, making webcomics is the best job I’ve ever had.